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When we last left our heroes, they had conquered all opponents in the 74th Annual Hunger Games, returned home to their newly refurbished living quarters in District 12, and fallen haplessly to the cannibalism of PTSD. And now we're back! Hitching our wagons once again to laconic Katniss Everdeen and her sweet-natured, just-for-the-camera boyfriend Peeta Mellark as they gear up for a second go at the Capitol's killing fields.
But hold your horses — there's a good hour and a half before we step back into the arena. However, the time spent with Katniss and Peeta before the announcement that they'll be competing again for the ceremonial Quarter Quell does not drag. In fact, it's got some of the film franchise's most interesting commentary about celebrity, reality television, and the media so far, well outweighing the merit of The Hunger Games' satire on the subject matter by having Katniss struggle with her responsibilities as Panem's idol. Does she abide by the command of status quo, delighting in the public's applause for her and keeping them complacently saturated with her smiles and curtsies? Or does Katniss hold three fingers high in opposition to the machine into which she has been thrown? It's a quarrel that the real Jennifer Lawrence would handle with a castigation of the media and a joke about sandwiches, or something... but her stakes are, admittedly, much lower. Harvey Weinstein isn't threatening to kill her secret boyfriend.
Through this chapter, Katniss also grapples with a more personal warfare: her devotion to Gale (despite her inability to commit to the idea of love) and her family, her complicated, moralistic affection for Peeta, her remorse over losing Rue, and her agonizing desire to flee the eye of the public and the Capitol. Oftentimes, Katniss' depression and guilty conscience transcends the bounds of sappy. Her soap opera scenes with a soot-covered Gale really push the limits, saved if only by the undeniable grace and charisma of star Lawrence at every step along the way of this film. So it's sappy, but never too sappy.
In fact, Catching Fire is a masterpiece of pushing limits as far as they'll extend before the point of diminishing returns. Director Francis Lawrence maintains an ambiance that lends to emotional investment but never imposes too much realism as to drip into territories of grit. All of Catching Fire lives in a dreamlike state, a stark contrast to Hunger Games' guttural, grimacing quality that robbed it of the life force Suzanne Collins pumped into her first novel.
Once we get to the thunderdome, our engines are effectively revved for the "fun part." Katniss, Peeta, and their array of allies and enemies traverse a nightmare course that seems perfectly suited for a videogame spin-off. At this point, we've spent just enough time with the secondary characters to grow a bit fond of them — deliberately obnoxious Finnick, jarringly provocative Johanna, offbeat geeks Beedee and Wiress — but not quite enough to dissolve the mystery surrounding any of them or their true intentions (which become more and more enigmatic as the film progresses). We only need adhere to Katniss and Peeta once tossed in the pit of doom that is the 75th Hunger Games arena, but finding real characters in the other tributes makes for a far more fun round of extreme manhunt.
But Catching Fire doesn't vie for anything particularly grand. It entertains and engages, having fun with and anchoring weight to its characters and circumstances, but stays within the expected confines of what a Hunger Games movie can be. It's a good one, but without shooting for succinctly interesting or surprising work with Katniss and her relationships or taking a stab at anything but the obvious in terms of sending up the militant tyrannical autocracy, it never even closes in on the possibility of being a great one.
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After weeks of conflict, bros all over the world can finally take comfort in the news that the Entourage film is set to enter production. According to writer and director Doug Ellin, the cast managed to hug it out and have all signed on to make the movie a reality. Jerry Ferrara, who played Turtle, also confirmed the news via Twitter last night. But while some people are rejoicing, and others are asking if it's suddenly 2007 again, we're left wondering what the plot of the film will entail. After watching Vincent Chase's (Adrian Grenier) rise and fall (and rise and fall) in Hollywood and his friends various successes and failures for eight seasons, are there any stories left for the Entourage film to tell?
It's undeniable that the show's quality dropped during its last few seasons, and it felt like the writers were recycling old plots in order to fill air time, and watching Vince miraculously escape any consequences for his actions over and over became a bit tedious. In honor of the film moving ahead despite the conflicts and criticisms, we've brainstormed 10 possible plots for the Entourage movie, so that they don't have to keep putting the characters in the same situations again and again.
1. Since the storylines on Entourage are often inspired by real-life events, the most likely plot for the film would center on Vince attempting to get the movie version of a successful television show that he starred in off the ground. However, tensions arise when he discovers that several of the cast members have decided to hold out on signing films contracts until they are paid the same amount of money as Vince, who became the show's breakout star. Things get even worse when Eric, who produced the show and is trying to produce the movie, calls the stars "greedy" to TMZ. Luckily for them, Turtle bonds with one of the actors, and together they help broker a deal while giving cheerful interviews to the media, exciting legions of frat-boys fans the world over.
2. In another storyline inspired by real-life events, Vince makes his Broadway debut in a play by David Mamet, alongside several well-respected theater actors. However, barely two months into the run, he gets sick and drops out the play immediately, leaving the cast in the lurch and surrounded by bad publicity. When his replacement gets better reviews than he did, Vince goes on the defensive, which only brings about more negative press, and he is forced to lay low for a while. He finally manages to turn his luck around when E convinces him to star in a PBS miniseries, which makes people respect him again. The chances of the Entourage writers using this plot depend on how frustrated they are with Jeremy Piven at the start of production.
3. Instead of continuing from where the show left off, the team behind Entourage decides to scrap a film about Vince and the guys and instead give fans what they really want: a feature-length version of Queens Boulevard. Since it was Vince's breakout role, the movie has been referenced on the show often, and the tagline "I am Queens Boulevard" has become one of the show's most famous lines. Alternatively, the writers are inspired by Hearts of Darkness and decide to turn the Entourage film into a mockumentary detailing the making of Queens Boulevard, and the nightmare of working with Billy Walsh, the most unstable director in Hollywood history.
4. In an attempt to lure in a new audience, Entourage goes highbrow with Turtle and Drama Are Dead, a Tom Stoppard-inspired film which outlines the major events of the series through the eyes of two of the more minor characters. Due to salary disputes, only Ferrara and Kevin Dillon actually appear in the film, but Vince, E, and Ari are all mentioned throughout. At the end, the two are ambushed by mafia hitmen after being unknowingly sold out by Vince after her couldn't pay back the money he owed for a drug deal.
5. The Entourage team decide to find comedy in a more domestic set-up, and the film follows E and Sloan in their attempts to raise their kids in their Westchester mansion. Between one of their kids being bullied at school, attempting to help another break into show business as a child actress, and Sloan's ongoing conflicts with the obnoxious neighborhood mothers who look down on her for not raising their kids vegan, they think things can't possibly get worse until Vince, who is unable to properly function without E around, moves to New York and into their pool house. Vince gets into hilarious hijinks while babysitting the kids during the day and throwing massive parties at night. However, in a touching happy ending, he finally learns to grow up and let go.
6. After the producers read on Twitter that the young people of today love when things get "meta", the film follows Vince's attempts to get a television show based on his life and his friends off the ground. Having never produced a show before, Vince must work with writers, casting directors and studio heads in order to get Hangers-On optioned. It eventually gets picked up by HBO and becomes a massive hit, but some of the people in his life are unhappy with their portrayal, causing Vince to have an internal battle against protecting their feelings and making good television. There are at least three references to the film Inception.
7. Deciding that they've told all of the stories they could about Vince, E, Drama and Turtle, the writers instead decide to focus the Entourage movie on the true star of the show, Lloyd. After winning a harassment lawsuit against his former boss, Ari Gold, Lloyd decides to open his own talent agency, and is immediately inundated with clients. He makes a promise to himself never to verbally abuse his employees, which helps the company's roster of top agents grow quickly. However, his unbelievable success is putting a strain on his relationship with his fiancé Tom, and Lloyd must balance work and love while trying to plan the most outrageous wedding Hollywood has ever seen. When they eventually make it down the aisle, Ari is his man - the two reconciled during the film's third act.
8. Hoping to rebuild their roster of celebrity chefs, Drama gets offered a cooking show by Food Network. His builds his culinary empire quickly, and suddenly finds himself richer and more famous than his brother. He hires Turtle to manage the business side of things, which upset E, who thinks Turtle isn't qualified enough. However, they must set find a way to band together when Drama insults Guy Fieri on a morning talk show, sparking the tackiest and worst-dressed feud in celebrity history. When Drama opens up a pop-up restaurant outside of Guy's Time Square eatery, Guy challenges him to a cook off of epic proportions, which will be televised after the hot dog eating contest on the Fourth of July. Paula Deen will attempt to recover from her recent scandals by making a cameo.
9. M. Night Shyamalan comes aboard the project as the new writer and director, hoping to boost his profile after a string of flops. The boys fly to a remote village in the countryside in order to start work on Vince's next film, only to discover that the cast and crew are being mysteriously killed, one by one. Mark Whalberg will take on the role of the gruff detective in charge on investigating the murders after his wife, a costume designer, dies tragically on set. Shyamalan's twist is that the scripts are possessed and killing people, and only Turtle makes it to the end. It gets uniformly negative reviews, but still inexplicably becomes a hit.
10. After years of their storylines being criticized as unrealistic, the Entourage film takes a more true-to-life approach in seeing where all of the characters have ended up. As a consequence of his constant stupid decisions, Vince has endured a second stint in rehab and a nasty divorce from his reporter wife, Sophia. He mostly makes ends meet through nightclub appearances and a string of mediocre films. E is also divorced, and has moved back to California to live with Vince and manage his mostly C-List clients. He and Sloan have joint custody of their child, but he still pines over her. By the end of the film, he is hopefully on his way to being a decent human being again. Drama's had a spike in popularity after a cable network decides to reboot Viking Quest. He's made a few guest appearances on the show, but mostly makes his living by appearing at fan conventions. Turtle owns a medical marijuana dispensary. Ari retired for good after all of his anger led to a minor heart attack, but his presence at home drives his wife crazy.
Or something like that.
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In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.
A billionaire TV producer (Robert Mammone) has a great idea for a reality show that he wants to put on the Internet and his goal is to beat the 40 million Super Bowl audience. He has compiled a crack team of young hip and immoral tech geeks directed by Goldman (Rick Hoffman) and puts cameras throughout a remote island where former prisoners are going to kill each other while audiences watch after shelling out the pay-per-view fee. The location is done on a remote secret island and the death row prisoners are bought from prisons around the world with the promise that the survivor gets to walk free. Among the contestants are a rogue Aussie named McStarley (Vinnie Jones) a martial arts expert (Masa Yamaguchi) a husband-and-wife team (Manu Bennett and Dasi Ruz) a monstrous killer who doesn't do much more than grunt (Nathan Jones) and others known only as The Italian The German and other monikers quickly forgotten. Enter the sole American Jack Conrad (Steve Austin) who's in a South American prison for some obscure reason and is recognized on TV by his wife (Madeleine West) who tries to save him. However it looks like Conrad is pretty good at helping himself. Don't expect the acting to be much more evolved than what could be seen among the World Wrestling Entertainment superstars especially since many of them were plucked from the ring to star in this morality tale. But Austin (who had in a strong cameo in Adam Sandler's Longest Yard) proves he has a sense of humor as well as strength. Vinnie Jones is ridiculously over-the-top as the Aussie who's the hand-picked winner of this game shown setting up alliances Survivor style only to turn on them later. The supporting cast are refreshingly entertaining but one-note caricatures both in the contest and running the contest. It's obvious that they aren't going to be around long but the actors do milk their tiny roles for every bit of attention they can get. Rick Hoffman as the brilliant camera mastermind of the project is both whiny sniveling and mean-spirited so when he joins some of the rest of the crew and suddenly develops a backbone and a conscience he ends up stealing the movie with his acerbic humor. But it's the understated American hero Conrad who holds a mirror up to the people who like to watch this stuff. Director Scott Wiper who co-wrote this story has also acted in similar movies like this (A Better Way to Die). It’s obvious he knows what he’s doing with The Condemned and develops a sense of voyeuristic angst like those of us who can't keep our eyes off a train wreck. Like the darkly subversive Belgian film Man Bites Dog the camera crew remains safely distant and remote until the reality directly involves them. Then the crew wonders "What the hell are we doing?" while the audience might be thinking "What the hell are we watching?" Much like Series 7: The Contenders Rollerball and other movies which show a dark and bloody near future this kind of reality doesn't seem too far away and maybe proves that movies which provide this type of gladiator spectacle target a certain segment of the human population who need to blow off steam.